IRL: Orlando Thursday Notes Ken Plotkin and David Reininger - motorsport.com Galles ECR Racing announced a partnership with tickets.com as their primary sponsor for the next three years. Tickets.com (http://www.tickets.com) is a leading...
IRL: Orlando Thursday Notes
Ken Plotkin and David Reininger - motorsport.com
Galles ECR Racing announced a partnership with tickets.com as their primary sponsor for the next three years. Tickets.com (http://www.tickets.com) is a leading online provider of sports and entertainment tickets, event information and services. Tickets.com expects their relationship with the team to be an active partnership, not just a sponsorship, and expects to set up a mini-site to help sell tickets and fill the stands at IRL races. Galles ECR Racing owner Rick Galles is thrilled to bring this sponsor to the IRL. "We are extremely excited to have Tickets.com as our new major corporate sponsor. They are a young aggressive company that I believe fits the image of the Indy Racing League. They have an excellent reputation in their industry and we feel that this is a tremendous fit for both of our organizations." In addition to the partnership with Galles Racing, Tickets.com has signed a five year venue contract with Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where IRL will race on Saturday, April 22.
Galles ECR driver Al Unser Jr got his first taste of official running in the IRL, and is looking forward to Indianapolis. "The Indy 500 is the grandfather of all these races. To be able to get back there is very important to me." While the last time he drove there was five years ago in a car that missed the show, his appetite has been rekindled by running the IROC at Indy. "The thing that hit me the most was how smooth it is. It was a feeling that I had forgotten. It is a billiard table, and it's the biggest one in the world. It's going to be good to get back there and back in the saddle." He was also overwhelmed by the crowd reaction at IROC and when he was there as a spectator last year. "When we were a rookie, that kind of reception was for AJ. It wasn't for me. It put butterflies in my stomach. It was really great."
Despite the time away - and the change of who they cheer - Al found it to be the same. "It was the first race day I'd been to since '95. I didn't see any difference in the fans, in anything about it. Race day at Indy is a great day. There was a ton of people there and it didn't look any different."
Another return to the familiar days is Al's reunion with Rick Galles. His move to IRL, and return to Indy, hinged on teaming with Rick, with whom he won 16 of his 31 victories. "Pretty much the way I see it, Rick's the only CART team that came to the IRL and has been running the IRL for several years now. And so I know that Rick knows how to get it done. We won the CART championship in '90 and then Indy in '92. We won a lot of races together. He knows how to get it done. That's why I was very adamant about talking to Rick and working it to where we could be driving his race car."
Out on the track, Unser worked his speed up to 164.564 mph, thirteenth fastest of the day. It was just like the old days, where he rarely led the pack before the race, but concentrated on solid setup. Saturday will tell whether he'll resume his habit of being in the hunt at the end.
Former Grand Prix and CART star Stephan Johansson was an interested spectator. Raul Boesel was also seen walking through the pits. Jimmy Kite, here for the Silver Crown race, was walking though the pits and paddock catching up with old friends. Jimmy, who enjoys the Walt Disney World track and is really looking forward to driving this weekend, expects to be back in an IRL car by Phoenix.
Harrah's Casinos, sponsor of A.J. Foyt's No. 14 car, increased its investment in A.J. Foyt Enterprises and the Indy Racing League by announcing that the Rio All-Suite Casino Resort will serve as title sponsor of the Foyt No. 11 car, driven this year by Eliseo Salazar. Rio expects a close relationship with Foyt and the IRL, working race events into their customer entertainment packages.
Harrah's will also sponsor Foyt's son Larry, who will compete as a rookie in the ASA series this year. Larry Foyt, 23, has raced and won in karts and Formula 2000. His long term goal is to race Indianapolis cars, but is headed for the short tracks so he can learn to "rub fenders" racing in close quarters. His car will be prepared and maintained by three-time ASA champion Butch Miller.
Also sporting new sponsorship was Tri Star Motorsports, with primary sponsor Armour Swift Ekrich. Jeret Schroeder, running his first race for Tri Star ran well in his '99 Armour Swift Ekrich car. Team co-owner, former IRL champion and reigning Winston Cup Rookie of the Year Tony Stewart was on hand to help set the car up. Jeret expects his weekend to be more productive than his wild boar hunt last Tuesday, where he neither saw nor bagged a boar. Jeret has his hunter's eye aimed at a quail hunt next week and the IRL Rookie of the Year this year.
Darrell Soppe is here helping Davey Hamilton in the Sinden Racing Service Spinal Conquest car. Soppe is on loan from Harrington Motorsports while the team searches for sponsorship for the balance of the season.
While the sounds produced by the new 3.5 liter 180 degree (flat) crank engines make the cars seem as if they were going faster than ever before, several teams are still using the 90 degree cranks which produced the loud roar the IRL cars have been known for over the past three years. Both of A.J. Foyt's cars, driven by Jeff Ward and Eliseo Salazar, are using the 90 degree crank. Foyt explained that he was sticking with the 90 degree cranks because "It's different, and through my career I've always been different." More seriously, Foyt was concerned about the increased vibration of the 180 degree cranks and reliability.
Engine builder Mickey Nickos, of NAC engines and co-owner of Mid-America Motorsports, here with driver Doug Didero, was less than enthusiastic about the flat crank, and is staying with the 90 degree form. He felt that it offered no particular advantage - or disadvantage - over the 90 degree cranks, but the new engine formula added to the financial burden in a year when chassis and tires were also changing. Team Cheever and Blueprint Racing are also here with 90 degree cranks. Blueprint, which is one of the few IRL teams with an in-house engine program has two 180 degree engines in their shop which will be ready for their next race at Phoenix.
A.J. Foyt starts the season with two new drivers, Eliseo Salazar in the No. 11 and Jeff Ward in the No. 14. Both drivers are enthusiastic about their new boss.
"Racing with A.J. is going to take my career to a new level", Salazar said. "No one in racing has more experience than A.J. does, and no one knows more about winning. I know our determination, skill and knowledge will put us in the hunt for the championship."
For Jeff Ward, it's a wish come true. "I'm used to walking by A.J.'s tent and wishing I was in there. And now I am. It's wierd going there and being a part of it. I already feel like I've been there forever. It's overwhelming that I'm in this position. It feels good.
"A.J.'s great. It's unbelievable how he talks to you and settles you down. As a driver you want to go fast. He wants you to calm down. It's nice because then you don't have that pressure of having to prove something to your owner. You'll get a good race car. Then, when qualifying comes, he expects you to stand on it. I've always done that, so it seems like it's working out really well."